- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (AP) - The Alaska Republican Party on Thursday called on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich to resign in light of the now-abandoned federal convictions that had crippled his GOP opponent, Ted Stevens, in last year’s election. Begich rejected the idea and even his Republican colleague said what’s done is done.

State Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich said Begich should step down to allow for a special election so Alaskans could vote without the “improper influence of the corrupt Department of Justice.”

Republican Gov. Sarah Palin immediately endorsed the idea.

“I absolutely agree,” she said in a statement released by Meghan Stapleton, spokeswoman for SarahPAC, Palin’s political action committee.

Stevens, 85, the longest-serving Republican in U.S. Senate history, was convicted of seven felony counts a week before the November election.

Jurors found that he lied on Senate financial disclosure forms to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from a wealthy oil contractor, but on Wednesday the Department of Justice announced it would dismiss the indictment against Stevens because prosecutors mishandled the case. Prosecutors have decided that a new trial would be inappropriate.

Even with the convictions, Stevens lost to Begich by less than 4,000 votes.

Begich, the former mayor of Anchorage, said he intends to serve his six-year term.

“I got into the Senate race long before Senator Stevens’ legal troubles began because Alaskans were looking for a change and a senator as independent as Alaska,” Begich said in a statement released by his office. “Today, with our country in a severe recession, it’s more important than ever that we have a senator focused on fixing our economy so Alaskans have the jobs they need to support their families.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, did not call on Begich to resign.

“In light of the good news yesterday, I am sure many of us wish we could turn the clock back to last November,” Murkowski said. “Unfortunately, that is not an option.”

Attempts to reach Stevens on Thursday were not immediately successful.

He was indicted in July on charges that he failed to disclose gifts and renovations at his Girdwood home from Bill Allen, the former head of VECO Corp., an oil field services company that provided design, maintenance and construction work for oil companies. The senator asked for a speedy trial.

Prosecutors last year contended that Allen changed Stevens’ modest A-frame cabin into a two-story home with wraparound decks, new electricity and plumbing, a sauna and a master-bedroom and balcony. The gifts included a furniture and a gas grill. Stevens testified he repeatedly pressed Allen to remove unwanted items and asked him frequently for bills for the renovation work.

Allen pleaded guilty in May 2007 to bribing Alaska elected officials and his testimony has been at the heart of an ongoing corruption scandal that has seen four former state representatives convicted of corruption charges.

In a motion to dismiss the guilty verdict, prosecutors said the government had failed to turn over notes of an interview with Allen in which he contradicted a statement he later made under oath at Stevens’ trial.

The information could have been used to cross-examine Allen and in arguments to the jury, the department said.

(This version corrects Stapleton’s first name, Meghan not Megan.)

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